The Pensions Authority
The Pensions Board became the Pensions Authority in 2013. The Pensions Authority consists of a chairman appointed by the Minister and two ordinary members consisting of a nominee of the Minister for Finance and Minister for Social Protection. The Minister (for Social Protection) fills casual vacancies. The Pensions Authority’s chief executive is the Pension Regulator.
The Authority regulates and supervises compliance with the requirements of the Pensions Act by trustees of occupational pension schemes, Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSA) providers, Registered Administrators (RAs) and employers. Occupational pension schemes and PRSAs represent the retirement savings of almost one million members with combined assets of circa €100 billion.
The Pensions Authority has a statutory responsibility to advise the Minister for Social Protection, either at his/her request or on its own initiative, on all matter relating to pensions generally. Under the Authority’s strategy for the period 2016 to 2020, the Authority aims to be a valued source of pension advice and knowledge for the Department of Social Protection and for Government generally.
The Pension Regulator is a member of the Pensions Council. The Pensions Council advises the Minister on pension matters, on request or on its initiative in certain cases. It is not a corporate body and does not have powers to spend monies.
The Pensions Council consists of a chairman, representatives of the Minister, the Pensions Regulator, representatives of the Central Bank, representatives of the Department of Public Expenditure, and up to eight other persons whom the Minister considers to have the relevant skills, specialist knowledge, experience and expertise to enable them to carry out their functions under the Pensions Act.
The Pensions Authority has three core functions:
- Regulation – fostering public confidence in pensions by regulating pension schemes and PRSAs effectively and efficiently
- Policy – providing expert advice to the Minister for Social Protection to help inform policy development
- Information – supporting pension scheme trustees and the public through providing guidance and information
- supervises compliance with the requirements of the Pensions Act by trustees of occupational pension schemes and Trust RACs, Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSA) providers, Registered Administrators (RAs) and employers
- investigates suspected breaches of the Pensions Act
- conducts on-site inspections and compliance audits
- instigates prosecutions and other sanctions where breaches of the Pensions Act are found to have occurred
- provides policy advice and technical support to the work of the Minister and Department of Social Protection
- provides relevant information and guidance to the public and those involved with pensions
- deals with enquiries received from scheme members, trustees, employers, the pensions industry, the general public and the media
Authority’s Divisions I
The compliance section of the Pensions Authority is responsible for:
- supervision and enforcement activities designed to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Pensions Act;
- conducting compliance audits and on-site inspections;
- investigating suspected breaches of the Pensions Act;
- instigating sanctions where appropriate.
The Funding and Actuarial Services is responsible for:
- oversight of defined benefit scheme funding;
- processing of defined benefit scheme funding and related proposals
- overseeing the reliability of data, in respect of defined benefit schemes, submitted to the Authority through its interactive data management system
- the oversight of cross-border scheme requirements.
The regulatory intelligence sections is responsible for:
- analysis of regulatory data submitted to the Authority
- raising data reporting compliance standards and reporting integrity
- collating available data and information and supporting the wider compliance effort.
Authority’s Divisions II
The operations and communications section is responsible for:
- dealing with all initial enquiries from scheme members, trustees, employers, the pensions industry, the general public and the media
- all routine interaction with the public through the provision of the Authority’s information, guidance and communications services
- overseeing the reliability of all data submitted to the Authority through its interactive data management system
- managing all the Authority’s ICT requirements.
The policy section is responsible for:
- formulating policy advice on the development and regulation of pensions and related issues through research, consultation and the preparation of working papers
- providing advice and technical support to the work of the Minister and Department of Social Protection
- contributing to and participating in EU and international pension policy issues.
The legal section is responsible for:
- providing legal advice and support services to the Authority
- prosecuting summary offences under the Pensions Act
- providing technical legislative support to the Department of Social Protection
- providing secretariat services to the board of the Authority.
The Authority regulates and supervises compliance with the requirements of the Pensions Act by trustees of occupational pension schemes, Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSA) providers, Registered Administrators (RAs) and employers.
The Authority’s priority functions include:
- carrying out investigations into alleged breaches of the Pensions Act, 1990
- auditing documentation which schemes are required to produce
- ensuring compliance with the funding standard in the case of defined benefit schemes
- approving PRSA products jointly with Revenue.
In order to ensure that its regulatory practices are efficient and that activities are directed to the most important and effective means, the Authority adopts a supervisory approach based on a hierarchy of risk priorities as follows:
- misappropriation of pension assets or contributions
- lack of governance or maladministration impacting on benefits/failure to pay benefits due
- DB solvency
- failure to provide prescribed information to members
- failure by regulated entities to submit accurate and timely data to the Authority
The Pensions Authority engages with regulated entities and their administration providers in order to assess levels of compliance based on the above priorities.
The Authority provides a comprehensive range of free information and guidance material on our website for the public and those involved with pensions which is updated and amended to reflect changes in pension legislation and regulations.
It responds to enquiries from pension scheme members, trustees, employers, the pensions industry, the general public and the media can make a general enquiry either by:
The Authority is wholly funded by fees levied on occupational pension schemes and on PRSA products.
There are statutory provisions, (whistle-blowing obligations), which place a legal requirement on a range of specified persons involved in the operation of occupational pension schemes, Trust RACs and PRSAs to make a report to the Authority where fraud or material misappropriation is suspected to have occurred or it is feared it is about to occur.
There is provision for a voluntary report on any matter concerning the state and conduct of a scheme, Trust RAC or PRSA. The receipt of timely reports of suspected problems in a scheme, Trust RAC or PRSA, is an important element in the Authority’s supervisory effort. The provisions also contain legal protection for persons making such reports.
Whistle-blow reports, and other serious complaints or allegations are investigated by the Authority. The Authority seeks to secure compliance without recourse to legal action but remains committed, where necessary, to using its full powers under the Pensions Act.
Monitoring and Regulation
The Authority assesses levels of compliance with the Pensions Act through a process of direct engagement with regulated entities and their administration providers. There is a focus on supervision of broader scheme administration and how trustees actually run their schemes.
The Authority holds meetings with trustees, pension providers and public service administrators to discuss a range of compliance issues. These meetings provide a direct engagement platform with regulated entities to discuss a broad spectrum of compliance issues relating to the Pensions Act. Any issues of concern to the Authority are identified and a timescale is set to resolve the matter to the Authority’s satisfaction. If there are more serious matters identified that have existed over a period of time the Authority will consider appropriate sanctions under the Pensions Act.
The Authority undertakes audits including:
- scheme Administration Reviews;
- benefits Due Audits;
- deduction and Non-remittance
- disclosure Audits,
- minor Breach Activity Audits,
- ceased Company Audits,
- frozen Scheme Audits.
Schemes are selected for audit for compliance with a particular legislative requirement such as disclosure requirements including provision of leaving service options and the provision of data. All of the audit activities feed into the Authority’s compliance programme helping to identify and more effectively target schemes and administrative entities for review and inspections.
Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman
The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides
- for the establishment of the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman
- the appointment of persons to be the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman
- for the dissolution of the Financial Services Ombudsman Council, the Financial Services Ombudsman’s Bureau and the office of the Pensions Ombudsman
The Minister will appoint a day as the establishment day for the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman for the purposes of the Act.
The Act sets out the main functions of the Ombudsman (to deal with complaints under the Act). It further empowers the Office to make submissions to Government upon its own initiative or at the request of the Minister. The Office may make guidelines in relation to its complaints procedures.
Accountability of Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is to prepare an annual estimate of income and expenditure to be approved by the Council no later than 3 months before the beginning of the financial year. The Ombudsman will be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The audit is to be provided to the Minister for Finance and to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Ombudsman is to keep proper accounting records. The Ombudsman must appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas Committees as and when requested.
The Ombudsman is to prepare an annual report on the performance of the functions of the Ombudsman during that year, submit the report to the Council and the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Social Protection and shall arrange for it to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Within 3 months after the end of each financial year, the Ombudsman shall publish a report containing:
- a summary of all complaints made to the Ombudsman during the preceding financial year
- a review of trends and patterns in the making of complaints to the Ombudsman
- the breakdown of the manner in which all complaints submitted was dealt with
- a summary of the outcome of all investigations concluded or terminated, including details on those complaints that were settled.
The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman can publish and prepare certain other reports in relation to their activities as the Ombudsman considers appropriate (including the naming and shaming of financial service providers in certain circumstances).
The Ombudsman is to prepare a strategic plan to be approved by the Council.
The 2017 Act when commenced transfers the functions that were vested in the Financial Services Ombudsman or the Pensions Ombudsman to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman on the establishment day.
The Act provides for the setup and structure of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Council (Council). Members of the Council are to be appointed by the Minister for Finance following a public competition process. The appointment of a member with pensions experience is made by the Minister for Finance, following a nomination from the Minister for Social Protection. The Council will have seven members, six ordinary and a chair (appointed by the Minister for Finance). The tenure of members will be five years, reappointment is a matter for the Minister for Finance.
There is a Financial services industry levy. The funding of the Ombudsman is by way of a levy from the financial services industry (in respect of complaints related to financial services). This section gives the Council the power to prescribe the levies from the financial services industry, once agreed by the Minister for Finance, collect the levies, determine who pays the levies, and how much, keep records of payment, and penalise in cases of non-payment.
The Chairman (and members) of the Financial Services Ombudsman Council will become the chairman (and members) of the new Council upon establishment day. The functions that were carried out by the Financial Services Ombudsman Council will be deemed to have been carried out by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Council.
The Act sets out in detail the functions and powers of the Council, including the power to set the financial services industry levy.
The chairperson of the Council must prepare a report on the work of the Council in respect of each financial year.
References and Sources
Irish Pensions Law & Practice Buggy, Finucane & Tighe 2nd Ed (2005) Ch.1
Pensions; Revenue Law and Practice (ITI) Dolan, Murray, Reynolds, McLoughlin (2013)
Trustee Handbook the Pensions Authority 5th Ed 2016
Statutory Guidance the Pensions Authority (Various)
Pensions Law Handbook 12 Ed Nabarro Nathanson Bloomsbury
Corporate Insolvency 6e: Employment & Pension Rights (6th Revised edition)
Occupational Pensions (Subscription) Lexis Nexis
Pensions Law and Practice with Precedents (Subscription) Sweet & Maxwell
Sweet & Maxwell’s Law of Pension Schemes (Subscription)
The Guide for Pension Trustees World Economics Ltd
The Guide for Pension Trustees website, you can:
Tolley’s Pensions Law Looseleaf Service (Subscription)
Pensions Act, 1990
Pensions (Amendment) Act, 1996
Pensions (Amendment) Act, 2002
Pensions (Amendment) Act, 2006
Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2005 (Part 3)
Social Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 2006
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2008
Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009
Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2010
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2010
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012
Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2013 49/2013
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2014
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2014 41/2014
Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 12/2015
Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2015 (Part 3)